On March 31, 2022, the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) published a supplement to President Biden’s 2022 budget request. The supplement serves as NNI’s annual report. According to the supplement, NNI has made significant progress toward the five goals of NNI identified in the 2021 NNI Strategic Plan. Furthermore, the nanotechnology research community continues to leverage former NNI investments that established a strong foundation of understanding at the nanoscale to combat COVID-19 and prepare for future pandemics. The supplement provides examples of progress toward the five NNI goals:
- Goal 1. Ensure that the United States remains a world leader in nanotechnology research and development (R&D): According to the supplement, at the heart of NNI is support for nanotechnology R&D, from the fundamental discoveries that expand the boundaries of knowledge to the applied and translational breakthroughs that enable new products and help address societal challenges. Individual NNI agencies use a variety of mechanisms to conduct and fund research that supports their respective missions, collectively supporting “a vibrant and dynamic nanotechnology R&D ecosystem that is making critical advances in areas as diverse as biomedicine, semiconductors, energy, agriculture, aerospace, and materials development.” Continued investments will enable future discoveries that build on the strong foundation developed over the course of NNI and ensure that the benefits to society and the economy are realized.
- Goal 2. Promote commercialization of nanotechnology R&D: Federal investments in nanotechnology R&D have led to thousands of products in the marketplace, and today’s scientific discoveries serve as the foundation for the next generation of applications, from tissue regeneration to aerospace composites. According to the supplement, NNI fosters commercialization by sharing information, promoting access to user facilities, leveraging resources through public-private partnerships, and participating in international standards activities that are critical to commercialization. In addition to these mechanisms, the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) has a dedicated industry liaison staff member who engages with industry and the development community by conducting outreach, sharing best practices, and suggesting collaborations as appropriate.
- Goal 3. Provide the infrastructure to sustainably support nanotechnology research, development, and deployment: Research infrastructure includes physical equipment, digital models, simulations, and data and is critical to all the NNI goals. The supplement states that the need for expensive, specialized tools remains a key requirement for much of nanotechnology R&D. User facilities that provide researchers and developers access to the critically enabling tools required to create, characterize, and understand nanomaterials and nanotechnology-enabled components, devices, and systems are one of the NNI hallmarks. NNI agencies support advances in tool development, establishment of facilities, and creation and dissemination of cyber resources through mechanisms such as individual grants, collaborative centers, and networks of user facilities. The NNI user facilities have adapted operations to prioritize pandemic response and improve remote options to continue serving the nanotechnology community.
- Goal 4. Engage the public and expand the nanotechnology workforce: The United States’ position as a world leader in nanotechnology innovation relies on talent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and a highly skilled workforce for every aspect of the R&D continuum. According to the supplement, NNI has supported outreach, education, and workforce development activities as part of its primary goals for the past 20 years. Fostering the growth of a globally competitive and diverse nanotechnology workforce is one of NNI’s strategic objectives, as outlined in the 2021 NNI Strategic Plan. In recognition of the importance of education, workforce development, and public engagement to the entire nanotechnology ecosystem, these efforts are now a stand-alone NNI goal.
- Goal 5. Ensure the responsible development of nanotechnology: Since the beginning of NNI, responsible development has been an integral pillar of the initiative. The 2021 NNI Strategic Plan articulates an expanded framework for responsible development that includes long-standing considerations, such as understanding ethical, legal, and other societal implications (ELSI) and the environment, health, and safety implications of nanotechnology development. According to the supplement, this new framework further embraces additional concepts, including an emphasis on inclusion, diversity, equity, and access and the responsible conduct of research. These efforts support the other NNI goals by helping ensure the integrity of nanotechnology R&D and fostering public confidence and regulatory certainty.